What Is a False Imprisonment Tort? – Morgan & Morgan

Experiencing false imprisonment or wrongful arrest is not only frustrating and upsetting, but it can also derail your home life, career, and finances. However, you could have legal recourse, whether you were unlawfully imprisoned by another person or by a law enforcement officer. 

Victims of false imprisonment or wrongful arrest may not know that they could file a false imprisonment tort in Georgia and seek damages for their ordeal. Morgan & Morgan is here to help. Our experienced false imprisonment attorneys can advise you comprehensively and walk you through your options for getting justice and compensation. Contact us today to find out about your next best steps. 

What Is False Imprisonment?

False imprisonment occurs when a person unlawfully restricts the free movement of another without justification or legal authority. False imprisonment does not have to include actual physical restraint to be considered unlawful. False imprisonment can describe both wrongful private or governmental detention. Examples of false imprisonment include:

  • Locking someone into a room or a vehicle
  • Law enforcement officers detaining an individual without justification
  • Sentencing a person to a prison term for a crime they did not commit
  • An individual physically restraining another by holding them down
  • Nursing home staff unlawfully restraining or medicating a resident

False Imprisonment Is an Intentional Tort

An intentional tort describes someone committing a deliberate and harmful act that results in harming another. Harm in this context can include psychological or physical harm and property damage. The person committing the tort is called the “tortfeasor.” As the name implies, intentional torts do not arise from negligence or carelessness but by intent. Common intentional torts, apart from false imprisonment, include: 

  • Battery
  • Assault
  • Inflicting emotional distress
  • Fraud
  • Defamation
  • Trespass 

The Elements of a Georgia False Imprisonment Tort

According to Georgia Code §16-5-41, false imprisonment occurs when someone violates the personal liberty of another individual by arresting, confining, or detaining the other “without legal authority.” However, to have legal recourse, you will have to prove that:

  • Another confined you against your will
  • The person who confined you did so intentionally
  • There were no lawful grounds for your confinement
  • You suffered harm (physical, financial, or emotional)

Proving the physical force of the defendant is not necessary for having a false imprisonment case. An implied threat of force can be enough to prove the defendant’s intent. An example of a threat can be the aggressor stating that they would hurt the victim if they attempted to leave. A false imprisonment attorney from our firm can clarify whether you have grounds and evidence for a false imprisonment case.

Which Acts Do Not Constitute False Imprisonment?

In trying to understand the concept of false imprisonment, it can be helpful to look at the acts that, according to law, do not constitute false imprisonment. You would not have a false imprisonment case if: 

  • Police detained you and subsequently cleared you of a crime
  • You gave voluntary consent to confinement
  • A shopkeeper held you for a brief period on suspicion of theft
  • You are constrained by another person but can quickly free yourself
  • You are told to stay but can easily leave the premises

It is important to note that the police and shopkeepers enjoy certain privileges under the law and are generally allowed to hold individuals for an amount of time to determine whether they committed a crime. In some rare circumstances, private persons can legally hold another person in a “citizens’ arrest” if they have witnessed a crime or wrongdoing.

Wrongful Arrest and Imprisonment by Law Enforcement

The police do not have unlimited power to arrest citizens. According to the Fourth Amendment, all citizens have the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures”. In addition, the amendment states that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” Therefore, law enforcement officers must produce a warrant or have reasonable suspicion that an individual is about to commit or has committed a crime. If a police officer arrested you without a probable cause or warrant, you could have a case for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.

Law Enforcement May Be Violating Your Rights

Examples of civil rights violations and false imprisonment by law enforcement officers include:

Making Arrests Without a Cause
Arrests without a cause happen when a law enforcement officer has no warrant or probable cause legitimizing an arrest. 

Arrest Due to Planted Evidence
Instead of gathering and analyzing evidence at a crime scene, police officers may plant or fabricate evidence showing that an accused individual committed the crime. Planting evidence is unlawful. Reasons why police officers plant evidence can include:

  • Feeling under pressure to solve a crime
  • Believing that the suspect committed the crime without having adequate evidence
  • The wish to incarcerate an individual suspected of committing other offenses regardless of whether they committed the crime in question

Arrest Based on False Testimony 
A police officer giving exaggerated or false testimony can lead to false imprisonment and wrongful convictions. Moreover, in some cases, officers may influence witnesses and suspects in such a way as to cause false imprisonment. 

You Could Have Legal Recourse Against a Police Department

Police officers are tasked with keeping us safe and locking away guilty criminals. However, when officers abuse their power, leading to the incarceration of an innocent person, they could be held accountable. 

You may be able to have a criminal conviction overturned if you are the victim of wrongful arrest. In addition, you could also bring a civil lawsuit against the police department for damages. Damages in intentional torts can include loss of wages while incarcerated, pain and suffering, humiliation, and others.  

Compensation Available in a False Imprisonment Tort

If you had to endure false imprisonment, you could qualify for compensation. While every case is unique, victims could seek the following damages, among others:

  • Costs for medical treatments and psychological counseling
  • Loss of income and future income
  • Emotional and physical suffering and discomfort
  • Lost business or lost employment opportunities
  • Shame and humiliation
  • Damage to reputation

If the responsible party showed particular maliciousness, a court might also award punitive damages in a wrongful arrest or false imprisonment case.

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